Negotiations have been taking place between the Government’s scientific adviser, English Nature, and the peat extracting company Scotts Ltd, the firm that owns nearly all the peat permissions for Wedholme Flow in Cumbria, and Thorne and Hatfield moors in South Yorkshire. To compensate the company for lost earnings from a total cessation of peat extraction on Thorne Moor and Wedholme Flow, and for the phasing out of work at Hatfield, Scotts will receive £17.3 million over the next three years. As part of the agreement, the company has committed itself to secure employment through the processing of peat alternatives.

In total, the three peat bogs cover an area of 4097 acres (1658 hectares).

“The UK and Ireland contain some of the largest and best peat bogs in Europe,” said Environment Minister Michael Meacher, following the announcement. “Within the last 100 years, an estimated 94% of Europe’s bogs have been lost. If a peat bog disappears it is effectively lost for generations as it takes thousands of years to form.”

The three peat bogs should be protected under the European Habitats Directive, as they are part of the Natura 2000 network of sites proposed to the European Commission in recognition of their ecological importance. The directive requires all European member states to prevent any damaging activities on Special Areas of Conservation. As part of this obligation, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has already introduced a statutory obligation on local mineral authorities to review all extraction permissions. The UK Government has also set a target of 40% of the country’s total market requirements to be satisfied by alternatives to peat by 2005.

“As part of the agreement, a thorough restoration programme will get underway which English Nature will monitor,” said Meacher. “By beginning this process whilst some of the peat forming resource is still available, the right conditions will allow for the slow process of re-growth to begin and the new flora and fauna, associated with peat, to begin to grow back within the next 30 years.”

Environmental groups are proclaiming the agreement as a victory, following a long-running campaign. Archaeologists are also celebrating, although the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) have expressed disappointment that parts of Hatfield Moor will face a further two years of extraction. Dr Niki Whitehouse, of the CBA, and Lecturer in Palaeoecology at Queens University, Belfast, stated that Thorne and Hatfield Moors contain “important scientific environmental data: for example twenty species of sub-fossil beetle that no longer live in Great Britain have been recovered from these peats, indicating how environmental conditions have changed over the last few millennia”. “Pines and oaks preserved within the peats are being used to study the impact of environmental and climatic change 3,000 years ago,” she added.

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